Every month I find myself reflecting on weekend endeavors, and I can’t help but feel humbled by the people around me and their cars.
I’ve noted this in the past, but it’s honestly something I can’t seem to get over, especially living in the Bay Area. For weekends on end, I make it a point to get out there and drive around the mountains, and I almost never fail to run into a thing or two of interest while I’m out there. I’m privileged to say the least when it comes to living in one of the primary automotive enthusiast hubs of the entire world, and every now and then, things pay off.
A few weeks ago I held a short spirited dawn patrol run with a couple dozen of my friends, whom also urged to fulfil their need for speed due to California’s poor weather conditions as of late. If you keep up with me on any of the social media platforms I’m on, you just may have caught a glimpse of the action, where we had quite a few interesting cars show up, including some rare homologated race cars.
Some of these are cars that you pretty much only ever get to read about, and never get to see, let alone experience firsthand. So I got to thinking…
By the time I made it home from the drive, I had already built up a full plan and list of homologated cars I often find myself around, and I plan to share them with you guys over the next few weeks. These are dedicated road-going versions of iconic race cars, and I’ll be giving you guys a breakdown on what made them so special in the first place.
Let’s start with God’s homologated chariot…The Historic E30
Developed in-house by Munich’s own BMW Motorsport division, the E30 M3 quickly climbed the ranks and earned its stripes after defeating its main competitors the Alfa Romeo 75 Turbo and the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16V (later) in WTCC in 1987 and DTM in both 1987 and 1989.
This was the series that built a reputation around drama, whether it was homologation regulation constraints, cheating the competition with illegal engine management, or even undisclosed post weigh-in weight reduction tactics.
Deception and mischief aside, the first generation BMW M3 surpassed its rivals with its lightweight construction, nimble and predictable driving characteristics, and sheer power to weight ratio. It won the heart of both spectators and race car drivers around the world, earning itself the iconic nickname God’s Chariot.Evolution Of The Evolution
With WTCC regulations requiring 5,000 units of the race car to be homologated into road-going versions for the general public, BMW reluctantly developed the base model E30 M3. But as the phrase ‘Win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ goes, BMW surprisingly couldn’t hold on to the E30 M3 at any of its showroom floors for longer than a few days. People flocked to dealerships, hoping to have their piece of the box-shaped pie.
As we all know, the Germans are quite sensible when developing their cars, so to say they tamed the base model M3 down quite a bit would be a huge understatement. Don’t get me wrong, they are good, but have you ever driven a base model E30 M3? Let’s just say they look far better than they go. But fear not, because there was a hat trick in store from the Motorsport division in Munich.
The first Evolution was essentially the same car as the standard E30 M3, with the only differentiating characteristic being a revised cylinder head, keeping peak power the same at a sluggish 197bhp, alongside standard weight and trim packages. There were only 505 examples of the Evo I made in 1987, and it was so similar to the standard E30 M3 that even BMW decided it wouldn’t make sense to throw the Evolution plaque on the cars.
The Evolution II, however, was the first attempt the Motorsport division made into creating a race-oriented road version of the already homologated race car. 501 units were produced in spring of 1988, and defining traits included substantial mechanical upgrades resulting in 23 more horsepower over the standard M3. Aerodynamics were improved with a deeper front air dam, rear spoiler lip, front brake ducts, unique colors, a cloth interior, and M-badged trim pieces.
This was also the first car BMW decided to uniquely number by placing a special ‘M’ plaque on the center console, which made identifying an Evolution II easy.
The crème de la crème of series was of course the Evolution III, or Sport Evolution as it was known. A last hoorah if one might call it. There were only 600 units of the Sport Evolution produced in late 1989 and early 1990, and it was considered the most extensively modified version of the standard M3 to ever be produced by BMW’s Motorsport division.
Starting with the engine, the Sport Evolution was the most powerful of the E30 M3 lineage, boasting a whopping 238bhp from the over-bored BMW S14 engine. Displacement increased from 2.3L up to 2.5L thanks to a long-stroke crankshaft. In addition, a more aggressive cam was added, and special nozzles would spray oil under the pistons to help keep the engine running cooler.
From the outside, the Sport Evolution still retained the iconic boxy design of the base E30 M3, but was only offered in Jet Black with red pinstripes, or Brilliant Red with black pinstripes. Other notable differences included thinner glass all around for weight reduction, a lighter trunk and bumpers, and brake cooling ducts instead of fog lights.
At the time, homologation regulations required certain characteristics of racing aerodynamics to be fitted on to the street cars, so BMW incorporated unique front and rear spoilers that had adjustable extending capabilities for greater downforce, slightly wider front fenders, and a re-profiled grill with sealed gaps.
From the factory, most comfort items were removed, and were instead only offered as options. They included power windows, a sunroof, on-board computer, air conditioning, map lights, and grab handles.
The base Sport Evolution came with cloth anthracite M Cross seats, though the car pictured in this feature is fitted with every single available option at the time, including black leather Recaro seats with the quintessential tri-colored M stripes, and a lovely M Tech steering wheel with matching shift knob.An Unforgettable Experience
If I’m honest here for bit, I will note that I have driven a couple of standard US-spec E30 M3s in the past, and reiterating on my previous statement, they’ve always seemed to give me an underwhelming driving experience. Most notably due to the lack of power.
But G tossed me the keys en route to our shoot location to compare the differences between the base M3 and the Sport Evolution, and quite frankly, it’s a totally different animal. We took the long and technical twisty route to the location, and it gave me a chance to really see what a true E30 M3 should have been from the factory.
At cruising speeds, the car felt tame and easy to drive, just like the standard M3. But as soon as we got to the mountain roads, the homologation aspect of the car came to life. It was nimble, it felt properly powered, and the Getrag dogleg 5-speed felt perfectly geared for both the banking sweepers and tight hairpins along the route.
This was the honest M3 driving experience that I expected from BMW the first time I got behind the wheel of an E30 M3, but never got until now.
With our short-lived fun run completed, G and I came to a discussion about the driving characteristics of the car, and we both agreed that it was almost too easy to drive fast.
Glory aside, I couldn’t help but think why BMW didn’t make all the standard E30 M3s in this exact fashion. Why tame the beast that lived within? But perhaps this car was the reasoning behind the derivation of what was coming in the not-so-far future.
A car that I considered a childhood hero, which I will be sharing with you guys in the next story…